Employee Engagement Definition: What it Is, What Affects It, Where Employers Lag

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Understanding the employee engagement definition is on every employer’s priority list these days. The number of companies that want to measure, track, and improve employee engagement in their workplace continues to increase – a testament to engagement’s increasing popularity.

Understanding the concept of employee engagement can be confusing for many employers since so many conflicting definitions and research exists on the topic. This article seeks to clarify what employee engagement is, what affects it, and where employers typically lag in engaging employees.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement refers to an employee’s involvement in, commitment to, and satisfaction with their work. Many people mistake employee engagement for simply employee satisfaction. Engagement measures more than just an employee opinion of how satisfied they are at work. Rather, engagement measures how emotionally connected the employee is to their work.

What affects employee engagement?

Certain work attributes can affect whether employees feel engaged. These attributes span job-related factors and those in the work environment. Specifically, ERC has found that the following are some of the most critical factors that affect engagement:

1. The Job

  • Degree to which employees feel challenged, but not overloaded
  • Extent to which employees can work on new, varied, and important tasks
  • Whether employees work on tasks and in jobs aligned with their best skills and abilities
  • Extent to which employees are autonomous and can work independently
  • Degree to which employees perceive their work to be meaningful, fulfilling, and purposeful
  • Extent to which employees have the flexibility to meet their personal and family needs
  • Extent to which pay and other rewards are perceived to be fair

2. The People

  • Strength of relationships with coworkers, leaders, and supervisors
  • Degree to which employees feel supported by the organization, its leaders, and their supervisor
  • Degree to which employees feel that leaders and their supervisor care about them and their well-being
  • Degree of trust employees have in leaders and supervisors
  • Whether leaders are perceived to have integrity and to be leading the organization in a positive direction
  • Extent to which employees feel valued, appreciated, and recognized by others, especially managers and leaders
  • How well leaders and supervisors communicate with employees; the extent of transparency

3. The Opportunity

  • Extent to which employees feel invited to share their ideas, opinions, and suggestions
  • Whether employees have opportunities to learn, develop, and grow
  • Degree to which there are opportunities to earn more pay and advance based on performance
  • Degree to which employees feel a sense of progress and receive performance feedback that they can improve upon

It’s important to note that the “drivers” of engagement at every organization and for every employee are different. In our statistical analyses, we find that every organization and employee has a different set of work attributes that most significantly affect engagement. While all of the attributes are important in influencing engagement, some are more influential than others.

Engagement can also be volatile. It may change depending on the presence or absence of any of these factors at any given time.

In what areas do most employers lag in engaging employees?

Most organizations struggle with development and growth opportunities; rewards and recognition; competitive compensation and pay for performance; regular performance feedback; clear, consistent, and transparent communication; and some supervisory and leadership issues when we evaluate levels of engagement. Lately, we’ve also seen an uptick in stress, work overload, and lack of work/life balance negatively affecting engagement. Issues related to job design and lack of challenge, autonomy, and line of sight also are somewhat common opportunities for improvement, but not as widespread.

These areas consistently are rated lower on engagement surveys and are common areas in need of improvement among employers. Also, these areas not only affect engagement, but are retention concerns. They are typically issues that cause employees to consider leaving their organizations.

All of these areas can be positively impacted through employer initiatives. Organizations that implement effective solutions in these areas often see their engagement increase year-over-year, especially if these areas are “drivers” of engagement.


An engaged workforce reaps so many benefits for employers - more satisfied employees, improved performance and productivity, stronger retention, and a better bottom line – that it’s no wonder organizations are making employee engagement one of their top workplace objectives.

Additional Resources

Employee Engagement Surveys

Research shows that high employee engagement leads to increased retention, productivity and business success. ERC's Employee Engagement Survey service assesses employees' level of engagement, identifies the drivers of engagement at your organization, and provides recommendations on practical steps your organization can take to improve employee engagement.

Retaining and Engaging Your Talent

The training course also provides participants with experience with how it feels to be part of an engaged and disengaged workforce, strategies and tools for engagement and retention, and how to apply engagement techniques to your workforce and determine actions that should be taken.